NEO: The World Ends With You Interview - Discussing creation and localization with the team behind the revived cult classic
In a way, It's hard to believe that just a bit over a year ago, NEO: The World Ends With You had yet to be announced, and series fans had little reason to expect that a sequel to the cult classic DS game would ever be released. Fast forward 13 months or so later, and NEO is one of the most interesting RPGs of the year. We loved it in our review this summer.
Now, here after launch, RPG Site had a chance to ask some questions about NEO: The World Ends With You to both the Japanese development team and English localization staff. You can check out our conversation below.
RPG Site: Can you describe how and when NEO: TWEWY was originally conceived? When did you know you wanted to make a sequel to the original DS game, and what challenges were there in greenlighting one?
Tomohiko Hirano - Producer: When we released The World Ends with You, many fans of that game showed their desire for a sequel—we had always kept this in mind and wanted to look into doing a new installment in the series. However, the first game was very unique, which made it difficult to develop the game if we were not able to commit a development team to work only on this series.
Luckily, we were able to have the same team that worked on The World Ends with You: Final Remix for the Switch continue their work on the series—that same team was behind the development of NEO: The World Ends with You.
RPG Site: Was there any sort of feedback or response to the game, from fans or critics, that surprised you? Anything you didn't expect?
Tatsuya Kando - Series Director: I’d personally like to thank everyone for their patience over the past fourteen years. I myself am very happy and surprised that we were able to release a second title even now. Hearing feedback from existing fans and new fans alike saying that they enjoyed the game really makes me glad we were able to bring this game to the players.
Hiroyuki Ito - Director: When the production of this title was announced, I was surprised to see that TWEWY became a global No. 1 trending topic on Twitter. I’m truly thankful for this, given that the previous game came out almost 15 years ago. Furthermore, I’m extremely pleased to know this new title was embraced so strongly by those sorts of hardcore fans.
RPG Site: Just like the original, NEO puts a lot of effort into the visual design of its world. Was there a lot of time spent into researching the locations of Shibuya? What challenges did you come across when bringing it into 3D? What area was the most interesting to create?
Kando: From a visual perspective, the biggest impact was that it evolved from 2D to 3D. There were parts of development that were now easier because of this change, but at the same time we had to put extra work into incorporating the unique 2D representation from The World Ends with You. We tried to bring out a realistic sensation by stylizing various areas how we felt they could best represent the real locations we saw when we scouted each location.
In NEO: The World Ends with You, Takeshita Street in Harajuku was also added, which is a busy street with many pedestrians—we had to go through a deal of trial and error to portray how crowded it can be
RPG Site: How did you decide in creating a new team of characters for the new game?
Kando: Considering it has been fourteen years since the release of the first game, instead of creating a story where that title’s protagonists appear just as they had before, we created the game in a way so new characters would be the center of action, making it easier for those new to the series to enter the world of The World Ends with You. Of course, the story unfolds in certain ways to make it a very satisfying experience for fans of the previous game as well!
RPG Site: What was the inspiration for Rindo’s “Replay” mechanic?
Kando: The “Replay” ability itself was an idea from Mr. Tetsuya Nomura, the creative producer and character designer of this title. In order to further showcase that characters can use special abilities—even more so than in the previous title—we allocated original Psychs to each main character in this title. For example, Rindo has the power to turn back time, and Nagi can dive into people’s minds. Due to the nature of Fret’s character, we wanted to provide him with a Psych that, at first glance, is meaningless. To that end, he was given the ability to remember things that people had forgotten, but as you’ll see he contributes a lot to the story, ultimately making him a very interesting character.
RPG Site: It's been more than a decade since the original release, and when I look at the English localization credits, it seems to be an entirely new team in place. How did you approach localizing NEO to English, what prevailing philosophies did you hold, and how did you approach maintaining a style congruent with the original? Is there anything about TWEWY specifically that requires careful consideration in localization?
Christopher Orr - English Translator: While it’s true that none of us worked on the original Nintendo DS release, the main translators on the project had all previously played (and enjoyed!) the first game, so I like to think NEO: The World Ends with You was in safe hands as we were always going to be respectful of the established style. Regarding areas that require special attention as far as localization goes, the modern-day Japan setting was something I thought about a lot as someone who’s mainly worked on the Dragon Quest series up until now. There’s lots of terms like “photo sticker” (literally “print seal” in Japanese) that would just sound bizarre if you simply transliterated them. However, you do need to be careful not to go overboard and end up with a “rice balls turning into doughnuts” situation, since it’s clear now that the authentic setting is one key reason people seek out these kinds of titles. In retrospect, I think we did a fairly good job of striking that balance.
Katherine Ellerhorst - English Translator: I was a huge fan of the original game, and a lot of my love for it came from how localization was handled. I think all of us on the team wanted to maintain the fun feel of the original. Obviously, some time has passed since the release of the first game, so we couldn’t keep everything exactly as it was back then if we wanted to keep it feeling as fresh and modern as the streets of Shibuya. NEO: The World Ends with You in particular is a very “young” title with a lot of emphasis on rapidly changing cultural tendencies and trends, and we tried to stay true to that when translating. Trying to capture the linguistic moment is tricky when new slang appears and disappears so quickly, so you have to be careful about making it sound current, but not so much so that the vocabulary would be outdated by the time the game actually comes out.
Matt Furda - Lead English Translator: All of us on the team are huge fans of the original The World Ends with You, in no small part thanks to its charming and creative localization. The first thing I did before diving into NEO: The World Ends with You was go back through the original, taking copious notes on all of the characters, how they speak with one another, and how they interact with the city around them. The cast of The World Ends with You is extremely vibrant, both visually as well as in terms of its collective characterization. We thus strove to write dialogue for the cast in such a way that each person would provide their own unique colors, which would in turn overlap and intertwine to form a graffiti-esque tapestry of memorable characters. Likewise, given that the protagonists (and most of the other characters) all skew toward the younger side of the age scale, I think it was also important for them to sound convincingly youthful and present in this cultural moment without veering too hard into “how do you do, fellow wakamono?” territory. Given that our teenage years are (relatively) far behind us, I’m unsure how successful we were at achieving the right level of authenticity, but I hope players out there enjoyed their time with the Wicket Twisters.
RPG Site: Were there any games mechanics or story ideas that the development team wanted to explore, but maybe didn’t have time to implement into the full game?
Kando: We did deliberate how far to extend the map for this title, since such matters as whether to include Shinjuku or not would greatly affect the story. We ended up with the current map structure, having decided to pursue the perspective of diving deeper into Shibuya from Rindo and the team’s point of view for this title. As for story ideas, I might use them for other titles in the future, so I won’t mention them here! (laughs)
Ito: When we were in early development of the game, the controls were, in a way, a sort of replacement for touch panels—the player would aim and attack enemies in 3D areas using gyro sensors. That was fun in itself, but we ultimately decided to forgo the idea, as it took a lot of work to get used to the controls.
RPG Site: Now with two games, a few ports, and an anime adaptation of the first title, do you know what's next for the series?
Hirano: To be completely honest, we do not have anything planned for a new installment or the like. The World Ends with You games have taken place in Shibuya, and as a result there are of course many parts of the city that we haven’t explored yet—I would love to look into making that happen down the line. If fans of the series convey their passion for the game to us, our company may decide to let us make a sequel!
Kando: I poured all of the thoughts and feelings I had for the series—built up over the last fourteen years—into this latest title. I feel like I’ve given it my all. I almost feel that all that is left is an empty shell, unable to think of anything at this moment. However, I’ve been taking in fan feedback and reactions, and over time I hope to recharge myself with even more thoughts and feelings about The World Ends with You again.
RPG Site: Thank you for your time!